Monday, December 10, 2007
Judicial Council Adopts Methodology for SJO Conversions
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Judicial Council of California adopted a methodology for converting subordinate judicial officer positions into judgeships at its meeting on Friday, and confirmed its previous decision to convert a number of positions into judgeships on Jan 1.†
However, two positions in the Los Angeles Superior Court that the council had slated for conversion in its Oct. 26 meeting will not be converted, because they have already been filled.
Pursuant to requirements set forth in AB 159, the council adopted a set of recommendations for implementing the conversions of 162 positions statewide.† The law provides for the conversion of 16 vacant positions in eligible superior courts between Jan. 1 and June 30 of next year, and up to 16 vacant positions per fiscal year thereafter.
Under the recommendations, superior courts will be required to notify the Administrative Office of the Court promptly upon confirmation that a position eligible for conversion has or will become vacant with the anticipated date of vacancy.† The courts would then be prohibited from filling the position until the councilís Executive and Planning Committee decides whether to convert the position.†
The recommendations do not set a deadline by which the committee must act, but the committee will have the ability to approve the appointment of temporary subordinate judicial officers to fill converted positions pending an appointment by the governor.
In determining which positions to convert, courts will be placed into one of four groups. The Los Angeles and Orange superior courts will each make up one group, with the remaining superior courts to be divided among the other two.
Beginning in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, seven positions will be converted per fiscal year in the Los Angeles Superior Court, one in the Orange Superior Court, and four each in the other two groups, allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis.† If fewer than 16 positions have been converted by April 1 in any year, the remainder will be allocated among all courts on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The same formula will be used to convert vacant positions during the remainder of the 2007-2008 fiscal year, but the council decided to reduce the number allocated to the Los Angeles Superior Court to two on the advice of the court, which said that it only anticipated two vacancies during that time.†
A spokesperson for the court told the MetNews that the court expected some vacancies to occur after the first of the year, but that no official announcements had been made.
The council had voted in its Oct. 26 meeting to convert seven positions that were or would shortly become vacant, including two in Los Angeles, three in Contra Costa, one in San Francisco, and one in San Luis Obispo. However, in November the council became aware that the two vacancies in Los Angeles had been filled.
The first was filled by Dennis W. Carroll, who was elected as a commissioner in September, a full month before the council voted to convert the position, after Melissa Widdifield was appointed to a judgeship on the court. The second was filled by B. Scott Silverman, who was elected commissioner on Nov. 16 after Ann Dobbs retired.
Dag McLeod, manager of the councilís Office of Court Research, said that the council had inadvertently failed to immediately advise courts of its Oct. 26 decision or to confirm information about the vacancies, and that the council had only learned that the positions in Los Angeles were no longer vacant in November.
It was not immediately apparent whether Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czulegerís decision to call an election to fill Dobbsí position was attributable to the councilís delay.† Czuleger was unavailable for comment Friday.
McLeod said that the council nevertheless affirmed its Oct. 26 decision to convert the five other vacant positions, leaving 11 possible conversions remaining in the current fiscal year.
In a report to members of the council, council staff said that the rationale for requiring courts to notify AOC staff of any confirmed vacancies was to expedite the conversion process and provide certainty to courts wondering whether a vacant position would be converted or could be filled.† Council staff also said that it developed the groupings of superior courts so that the yearly conversions in each group would correspond roughly to the groupís share of the total number of conversions required under AB 159, and that the system would provide more certainty than allocating all conversions on a first-come, first-served basis.
McLeod said that the council will be sending out a memorandum to courts explaining the changes and that California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George, the councilís chair, had expressed interest in ensuring that courts are notified of the new requirements as soon as possible.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company